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3 Lessons From 2017 About How Work is Changing

by Scott Burns
on January 2, 2018

2017 was an extraordinary year in many respects.

For me, it was year of embracing the pace of change in technology, the profound shifts in most industries, and in the ongoing transformation in how work is getting done.

I co-founded a company called GovDelivery back in 2000 and ran it until it was sold in late 2016.

After building and leading a great team as GovDelivery’s CEO, I will confess that I had a well-formed, but very narrow view about how work is changing before launching Structural in May of 2017.

I know I’ve gained deeper insight from the well over 200 conversations with leaders and employees in companies of diverse sizes and across industries this year.

Lesson 1: Big Data is a big mystery.

Everyone wants to use more data to get work done faster and better. We all know there is more data than ever, but why does it feel like the water cooler, intuition, and the internal network still matter more than ever to the workforce? The challenge is putting data to use in ways that make employees and companies more successful and reduce the reliance on serendipity, proximity, and repetition.

From my conversations, it’s clear that we have a long way to go, and my view is that focusing on compiling and organizing Big Data is distracting some organizations from focusing on the targeted data that could help the organization reduce repetition or, more importantly, move faster to close business or deliver a key project on schedule.

Ask this question in your organization:

What are the most important decisions we make when pursuing our most critical deals, forming our most important teams, coaching our top performers, seeking new internal leaders, and more and what data would allow each of us to make better/faster decisions in these instances?  

Focus on making that data available when you need it vs. winning the “biggest pile of data” contest that many are playing.

Lesson 2: Solving problems from the top down never works.

Everyone believes in the importance of great leadership. But, whether I’m meeting with a health system in Indianapolis, a top national retailer in Washington, or a community bank in Minnesota, a different emphasis is apparent in winning organizations.

Top-performing organizations are thinking about everything from the bottom up when making decisions about systems, promotions, organizational structure, and more.

Ask this question in your organization:
How will this approach empower my people to make the right connections, move faster, sell more, and be more engaged for the long term in my organization?

Lesson 3: A learning workforce is a winning workforce.

One of my favorite colleagues ever joined a new organization years ago and found a broken culture in place where people said “that’s not my job,” or “I’m just not trained on that,” more often than the said “I’m happy to figure that out.” He used a website called LMGTFY (Let Me Google That For You) to send links back to people that would show them how typing a question or need into Google often produced a few good white papers and learning videos instantly. The message was clear (even if it was a bit snarky): if you don’t know how to do something, try to figure it out.

Strong organizations promote learning, self service, and responsibility within their organizations and provide a range of opportunities for people to connect with online training, offline training, mentors, skilled colleagues, new projects, volunteer opportunities, and more to promote development and learning.  In many industries, the skill to figure out and build expertise in new things is the only skill that won’t be dated in a few years.

Ask these two question in your organization:

Do our people come to work ready to learn everyday from public resources, formal resources, company resources, and from each other?

What are we doing to reward, recognize, surface, and put to use the skills that our people are learning on their own and through their work?

Whatever lessons you’ve learned about how work gets done in 2017, I hope you can put them to use in 2018.  Happy New Year!

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